Loewe Spheros R 26 review

Can this LCD from stylemeister Loewe justify its price tag?

Our Verdict

Stunning pictures and sound, but with a tricky operating system and high price

Despite the recent appearance of a slightly lower-priced Xelos range, it's fair to say that Loewe simply doesn't do 'budget' TVs. Take the German brand's latest set, the Spheros R 26, for example. It's a 26in LCD - and yet it costs over £1,000 more than most of its rivals. So what can it offer to justify the price hike?

Surface beauty

There's Loewe's design ethic, for starters. Spheros TVs fall into the brand's 'Reference' category, so it comes as no surprise to find that the R 26's build quality and looks hit benchmark standards.

The input highlights are the HDMI and component video jacks that make this set HD-ready (along with a high native resolution of 1,366 x 768). Then there's a PC jack, and a CAM slot for adding extras - such as Top Up TV - to the R 26's built-in digital tuner, on top of Scart and S-video options. It's interesting to note, though, that Loewe doesn't offer the DVI input that LG managed to squeeze onto its more affordable set.

We were surprised to discover that the R 26's digital tuner doesn't have support for Freeview's seven-day electronic programme guide (EPG). However, Loewe assures us that the EPG will arrive via a broadcast software upgrade by the end of this month. More surprising for a Loewe TV is that there aren't many other features, and that our search for them uncovered only an over-complicated on-screen menu system and an awkward 'rocker-ball' navigator on the remote control.

There's nothing awkward about the R 26's performance. With Sin City, the first thing that struck us was the picture's sharpness. This ultra-stylish movie is brimming over with detail, and often moves so quickly that it's hard to make things out, but on the Loewe we enjoyed every subtle scrap of picture information - and with no significant judder or blurring over the fast-paced action.

Unsurprisingly, image detail gets even better with a high-def source, but what is startling is the clarity this set manages with Freeview channels. What's more, there's practically no attendant grain or dot crawl.

Depth charge

With a film as dark as Sin City, it's imperative that a screen can deliver deep blacks, and happily the Loewe fits the bill, almost entirely avoiding common LCD problems of greying over and blue under tones, and presenting pictures with exceptional depth. What's more, our test movie's rare splashes of colour showed this set to be capable of producing vibrant, solid and rich hues.

Loewe has a reputation for producing TVs that boast sound to match their visuals, and the Spheros R 26 proves itself to be a chip off the old block. Our test movie was provided with plenty of bass, fully rounded trebles, an expansive mid-range, a wide soundstage and rich dialogue. In fact, this set delivers as fine a soundstage as we've heard on a 26in TV.

We have no qualms in declaring the R 26 one of the very best performers we've seen at this size. But we do have to point out that it has a very unhelpful operating system, and is more than double the price of some very good rivals (like the LG, left). If you can live with the usability issues and have money to burn, though, you're in for an audio-visual treat.